Version tested: PlayStation 3
One hour in, I was bored. Three hours later, I was starting to see the light. Five hours is the sweet spot, though. Hang on until then, and you'll be pretty much hooked. Rainbow Moon is that sort of role-playing game - and I guess that's a bit of a mixed blessing.
Even for a throwback to the glory days of the Japanese RPG, Rainbow Moon - which is actually made by a German team, Söldner-X developer SideQuest Studios - takes an awfully long time to get its act together. There's a forgettable fantasy opener to doze through, telling a standard RPG story about mystical portals and a hero who's been thrown into an unfamiliar world. Then there's a starter island that's pretty in a colourful, chunky sort of way, but surprisingly fiddly to actually navigate.
Worst of all, there's the combat system; it eventually turns out to be the star of the show, but it's introduced at a glacial pace. You'll be playing for 20 minutes before you get any sub-turns to strategise with and 90 minutes before you're having any real fun at all. (I appreciate that 90 minutes isn't actually that glacial considering this is a 50-hour game, but I've had a lot of sugar over the last decade, and I'm not as patient as I used to be.)
The undue delicacy with which battling initially unfolds is weird, really, as this is hardly the most challenging design to wrap your head around. Turn-based and set on little instanced grids, it's lightly tactical, but it rarely brushes against the complexities offered by a genuine strategy-RPG. Placement is important, but you have a powerful defence move for when things go wrong, and along with a standard attack - ranged or melee, depending on the make-up of the party you're using and the weapons they're holding - you're mainly left to juggle a growing slate of specials, most of which do elaborate damage in different spatial formations while letting off colourful puffs of particles.
Enemies tend to attack en masse, and bosses are often damage sponges, but the designs offer plenty of variety, and the AI is filled with exploitable quirks. Best of all, impact is delivered with a real crunch, and by the time you've been playing for an evening or two there are wonderfully large numbers coming off most of the beasties you're smacking around. BAM.
It's grindy - perhaps excessively so - but that's practically a part of the old-school appeal as you harvest weaker enemies from the game's over-worlds before using the coins you collect to improve your equipment and any pearls you're dealt to boost your stats. The stat stuff is really nice, actually: your characters come with the standard attributes, but you can tinker with each element individually, so every few minutes you're headed back to the nice menu man in the local village to spend - and to grow. (Sadly, you'll also have to constantly monitor an incredibly needy food gauge for each character, too - an additional layer of mechanical fiddliness that the game really doesn't require.)
There are dungeons, many of them with puzzly gimmicks, and they tend to be the places where the difficulty level moves up a notch. There are side quests, too, and they pad out an adventure that's already longer than that of most downloadable offerings. It's a huge game, in other words, and it's tough enough to ensure that you'll move through it fairly carefully. Throw in a scrappy kind of handicraft charm, ignore a selection of little annoyances, and Rainbow Moon becomes a bit of a blast.
7 / 10